The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber

Ernest Hemingway was one of a group of artists in the inter-war period of the early twentieth century who was left mentally (and for Hemingway also physically) scarred by the total devastation he witnessed during and after the Great War. Gertrude Stein labeled Hemingway and his peers "a Lost Generation", a famous phrase that only partially describes the detachment, confusion, instability, and distrust that these twenty- and thirty-somethings felt toward many of the traditional ways of life that had led to the brutal, total war which had eradicated much of the people of their age group. To cope with the feelings of meaninglessness and nothingness they had in their lives in the modern world, these artists developed personalized value systems which were reflected and transmitted through their work. Hemingway's personal value system has been termed "the code", and has to do mainly with struggle and growth toward awareness as a process taught via example by a tutor figure to a student figure, the tyro. The tutor figure is what critics call the code-hero, and his stoic tutelage is usually manifested in some manner of 'birth under fire' to the tyro, who is often only a shell of a human, a corrupted soul, and is virtually the 'living dead'. Through the tutor's example, the tyro can struggle toward an awareness of nada, the term for the omnipresent void of modern life, and through confronting nada perhaps win back his life from moral and emotional bankruptcy. The tutor teaches the tyro how to cope with nada. This essay will examine Hemingway's code and how it confronts nada as it is played out in one of his most exemplary tutor-tyro duos, Wilson and Francis in "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber". Understanding Hemingway's common structural figures will help to illuminate the action in the story as well as the process of Wilson's tutelage and Francis' growth. One structure in "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" is that of an inner journey for Francis. As Grebstein suggests, Francis, like other Hemingway tyros, moves from innocence to suffering to awareness. 1 With awareness, at least in Francis' case, comes action as well. The other main structure in the story is more abstract and theoretical but equally as evident as the first, namely that of an arch pattern relating to place and spheres of action. This structural pattern, which will be analyzed in conjunction with the former structure, is a progression from outside to inside to outside. 2 Francis Macomber begins the story with a skewed type of innocence that is common in Hemingway's writing. His innocence is not so much of a lack of experience but a lack of valuable, dignified, real experience, leaving Francis with years of memories but none which he can use to improve his personal character. 3 That is to say that Francis has led a 'sheltered life', one where he has been protected from making difficult decisions by the barriers and buffers of his wealth, his marriage and his status, which in true Hemingway fashion are all represented more or less by one unifying entity: Francis' wife Margot. In the story, Margot is the personification of the forces of nada. All the things Francis has cherished and which have (unbeknownst to him) made his life so meaningless thus far, are the same things which Margot and he share, and further, are the things which Francis will have to reject and de-value in order to face the wounded big game on the hunt, in order to confront fear and nada. Implicit in that statement is the assertion that Francis must reject Margot (his personal marriage to nada) in order to start to live, and conversely that by loosening her grip on him, Francis also loosens the grip of nothingness, of nada, on himself. Of course, Francis does not know any of the above early on in the story, and even for a while after the wounded lion incident; he is still in a state of unaware innocence, or naïveté, and it will take prompting from the tutor character, Wilson, to enable Francis to struggle toward a break with Margot and more importantly, with nada. Like Harry in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" (who also comes to a realization that he must reject the woman he is with and her world in order to